Cruising for a Bruising – Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Review

Edge of Tomorrow Poster

Tom Cruise is well known for playing heroes, the kind that are unphased by the desperate circumstances they find themselves in and who always walk away from explosions. It’s all just steely expressions and thrilling antics. I have enjoyed much of his acting in the past (“show me the money” anyone?) but recently it appears that he’s been doing the same action role over and over – Jack in Oblivion, Jack in Jack Reacher etc. It doesn’t help that his physical appearance remains the same from film to film, and I felt like I was watching Tom Cruise and not his character. Whomever he was meant to be was dwarfed by his enormous celebrity presence. All this left me jaded and when I saw his casting in Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t hold out much hope for his acting talents to resurface. It is however, pleasantly enjoyable to be wrong on this one.

Edge of Tomorrow is based on the novel entitled All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and the set-up is as follows. In the near future, the forces of humanity are in a desperate struggle to repel an alien invasion of Earth. Major William Cage (Cruise) is part of the military but works only in public affairs, being a self-confessed coward. He is summoned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and is stripped of his rank and placed in the front lines of the next big attack – which is likely to be humanity’s last. Through circumstances that I won’t spoil he ends up repeating the same day every time he is killed and with the help of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) must find a way out and a way to win the war. The elements of the story can feel quite familiar when viewed individually – the near future, alien invasion, mech battle-suits, and the time looping – but it is the combination of these that make Edge of Tomorrow into a fun slice of sci-fi action.

The concept of time looping is not new and many people have likened to Groundhog Day, which has given rise to many witty alternative titles e.g. Saving Private Groundhog or Groundhog D-Day. Wish I could take credit for those. Whilst the comparison is almost inevitable, I was pleased to see that there were no karmic elements, and the reasons for Cage being trapped in the loop are instead tied to the greater plot of the invasion. Despite this, predictability does threaten to rear its ugly head towards the climax of the plot but it manages to avoid straying into genre clichés.

Edge of Tomorrow Blunt Cruise

“I’ll be blunt, this won’t be anything like a pleasure cruise”.

In the overall grimness of the threat of human extinction, it’s impressive that the film-makers manage to include plenty of levity revolving around Cruise’s quivering yellow-belly, and I’m taking quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. It’s great to see a stalwart of action cinema bumble along like a fish-out-of-water and Cruise does this superbly. It’s not only these light touches to the character and his predicament that make Cruise’s performance quite possibly one of his best in a while. He brings a certain pathos to his hapless everyman, caught in a situation that couldn’t be more opposed to his instinctive self-preservation and you understand the struggles he goes through, be they with the battle itself or the growing relationships with the soldiers around him. Emily Blunt is also terrific, as is to be expected of one of the finest actresses currently working, and similar to Cruise as a coward it’s a joy to see her getting tough as a battle-scarred veteran.

There are a few more things that deserve a mention. Doug Liman’s direction is very assured and the way he handles the balance of action and drama is to be applauded, although I shouldn’t be too surprised at that, he did direct The Bourne Identity after all. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but I thought the design of the world was suitably sci-fi, in particular the mech-suits which are industrial and flat out awesome. Slightly at odds with the whole mechanized look is Rita’s weapon of choice – an unfeasibly¬†large sword – but let’s just call that a nod to Japanese gaming and move on.

In a summer filled with sequels, it’s always exciting to see a film that amalgamates some ideas into a fresh viewing experience. You may have seen these elements before, but together with Cruise and Blunt leading the charge, they certainly have the edge over their cinematic opposition.

Too cool for school – Much Ado About Nothing (2012) Review

Much Ado About Nothing Poster

As someone who never studied English beyond the compulsory GCSE level, Shakespeare has not been a part of my education for some considerable time now. Even when he was, I remember being largely disinterested in his work and wondering why he had been so intent on creating his own form of the English language – ‘He must’ve been quite up himself’, I thought, with my adolescent critical analysis in full gear. However, one of my English assignments at the time was to write an essay on the opening sequence in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, and the more I watched this the more I began to enjoy the intricacies of Shakespearean dialogue in a modern setting. For me, it invigorated an old story which I was sure I was already tired of.

Moving on from R+J, we have another of Will’s classic plays in Much Ado About Nothing. Behind this adaptation is a certain Mr Joss Whedon, known to the nerdy few as creator of TV series Buffy and Firefly, and now more widely known by the masses as that guy who pulled off the toughest task in superhero film-making – directing Avengers Assemble. This is his follow-up project and it couldn’t be more different from Marvel’s biggest film…apart from one aspect. Each project in the Whedonverse contains a wide roster of characters – from the crew of the Serenity up to the team of aforementioned heroes – and it’s in this that Whedon shows his strength as a director. Somehow throughout the proceedings he manages to give each character room enough to be memorable, to give us a chance to know them, without losing the momentum of the overarching plot. In Much Ado, the task of doing that is arguably harder than in Avengers, where characters were distinguished by elaborate costumes. Here we have a cast of dashing men in suits and lovely ladies in dresses…in sharp black and white, but the characters are as rich as the text itself, as if they had been coloured with a lavish palette.

The praise cannot all go to Whedon because that would mean overlooking the fantastic line-up of players. I recognise Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher from Firefly, and Clark Gregg from Avengers, and a quick IMDB search informs me that they are all past collaborators, having worked with Whedon at one time or another, meaning that a ‘yes’ was probably guaranteed as an answer even if it was at short notice. All the cast ease into their roles and clearly seem to be enjoying exercising their dramatic muscles with the Bard’s sharp dialogue, which appears to have remained stylistically similar in its transfer from page to screen. The Shakespearean language requires an adjusted ear and it may take a little while to tune in, but when you do you can really start to appreciate the cynical wit that laces the story.

Much Ado About Nothing Beatrice Hiro

“Who is Steve Holt?”

For all its cynicism, this is a story of romance, and therefore must rest upon the shoulders of its two leads – Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. Their pairing is marvellous to watch as their initial frosty reunion (there ain’t nothing like Shakespearean put-downs!) gives way to playful confusion as they come across the love that they did not anticipate in some funny moments. It’s all very light-hearted, and this extends to the score (composed by Whedon) that skips along from scene to scene. Added to the monochrome photography this gives the film a modern flavour which is comforting to linger on.

It all comes together to create an air of casual sophistication and saccharine charm that is hard to dislike. Much Ado About Nothing is, like its own masquerade ball, a party you barely feel cool enough to attend, but once you’re in you’ll dance the night away, drink in hand, lost in the dizzying cocktail of fairly lights and breezy romance. In the words of Capt. Reynolds (see Firefly), “a mighty fine shindig”.